While the causes of forefoot pain are varied, the recommendation on getting relief usually leads to one type of solution - metatarsal foot pads. Designed to alleviate your pain and get you on your feet again, metatarsal pads, or met pads for short, can get you back to being pain free, so you can enjoy all your regular activities again. Read on to find out how metatarsal pads can help you.
A metatarsal pad, or met pad for short, is a common solution to forefoot pain. Recommended by podiatrists and other health care providers, the pads provide pain relieving support to the metatarsal bones.
If you're bothered by pain in the balls of your feet, chances are you're suffering from one of a variety of ailments related to your metatarsal bones.
Each of your feet has five metatarsal bones, and the forward ends of these bones form the “ball” of your foot. Proper support of these bones can relieve and prevent forefoot pain.
Forefoot pain can be caused by:
Metatarsal support pads work by reducing the pressure on the ball of your foot by supporting the metatarsal bone just behind the ball of your foot. By distributing some of the pressure to the shafts of the bones, the pads diminish the pressure on the balls of your feet.
Michael Mueller, PT, PhD, division director of research in physical therapy at the Washington University Medical School of Medicine says, "It's all about the stress transfer, so what you’re trying to do is unload a certain spot on the foot—generally the met head with a met pad—and transfer it to a more proximal region."
Be aware, however, that metatarsal support pads are not cushions located under the balls of your feet. Instead, they are strategically placed pads, just behind the balls of your feet. For some, getting the right placement can be trial and error.
"Modifications and adjustments are part of the game when dealing with met pads, and sometimes you need to rip them off and try something different for the best fit," says Ryan Robinson, CPed and former president of the Pedorthic Association of Canada.
When positioned properly, metatarsal foot pads help to take some of the load off the balls of your feet. But make sure you're getting the right solution.
Many products sold as met pads are actually forefoot cushions. And while "metatarsal cushions" may provide some pain relief, they will not address the underlying issue and will not give you long-term metatarsalgia relief.
There are also forefoot cushioning pads made from stretchy gel materials that dissipate shock very well. As noted above, these are forefoot cushions, not metatarsal support pads, and do not unload pressure on the balls of the foot.
Keep in mind, if you're buying metatarsal pads that will come into contact with your foot, you'll want to find ones with an effective antimicrobial treatment that will prevent odor causing bacterial growth.
Metatarsal pads are available in a variety of shapes, including:
When testing the various shapes on runners, researchers found the dome shape was the most effective met pad option for reducing pressure. The U-shaped pad was the second most effective, while the donut shaped pad didn't result in significant changes. Study participants found the met dome shape to be the most comfortable.
Karl Landorf, PhD, a senior lecturer and research coordinator in the Podiatry Department at La Trobe University says, "Patients with relatively uncomplicated forefoot pain will generally benefit the most from a met dome. In particular, anyone with pain under the middle metatarsal heads, and that includes both younger and older adults.”
Once you've established that a metatarsal pad might be the solution to your foot pain, it's time to think about how you want to wear them.
Sometimes the met pad features self-stick adhesive to adhere directly to the bottom of your foot. There are several problems with this design:
Forefoot pain can severely and negatively impact your life, causing discomfort not only when you're walking or running, but all throughout the day. In some cases, the pain can be so intense it renders you virtually immovable. You may even find yourself walking with a limp to account for the pain you're experiencing.
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